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 Peter Takes on History 

April 5, 1614


Today is an important wedding anniversary.
The groom was an English gentleman named John Rolfe who, as an associate of London’s Virginia Company, came to America to settle the Jamestown colony. He would go on to become very, very wealthy as the first American settler to successfully grow and export tobacco.
While John Rolfe’s name is a bit obscure, his bride that day, April 5th 1614 was well known. Though the marriage certificate read Lady Rebecca Rolfe, we remember her as Pocahontas.
The fact of this wedding, the date and circumstances, are known positively because at this point Pocohantas’ life entered the English record.
Everything before these nuptials is speculation, opinion, lies and legend.
For example, we all know the story of Pocahontas and John Smith, right? The English colonist, captured by savages, about to be executed by Chief Powhatten when his daughter Pocahontas, smitten with the Englishman, puts herself between Smith and his executioner and begs her father to spare his life.
Well, when the two met in 1607, Pocahontas was 11 and John Smith was 28. Smith’s first telling of this encounter didn’t include any threat to his life or intervention by an Indian princess. Those details only appeared in a subsequent history written in 1624, seven years after Pocahontas died.
Indian historians also point out that the encounter Smith described was similar to a ceremony used to christen new members of their tribe and tradition would not have allowed an 11 year old, even a chief’s daughter, to be present.
Well, why let facts get in the way of a good story, right?
Still, Smith and Pocahontas had a critical relationship during those early days of colonization. The Jamestown settlers would not have survived without her. She negotiated the sale (and sometimes the donation) of food to the colonists. She also arbitted near constant disputes between the two sides. A lot of prisoner swaps. Deals gone wrong. And frankly, the English often disregarded agreement made with “the savages.” Chief Powhatan once shared this observation with Smith "your countrymen will lie much."
Eventually the relationship between settlers and native Americans fell into such disrepair that one dishonest English Captain ended a negotiation by tricking Pocahontas, just 15, onto his ship and sailing away. During her time in captivity, though it sounds a little “Stockholm Syndromy,” she met John Rolfe and fell in love.
For two years Indian Princess Pocahontas lived in an English settlement where she was transformed. She was baptized into the church as Rebecca. She took to European dress, polished her manners and her language skills. Finally, in 1613 John Rolfe received permission from the Virginia governor to marry Pocahontas.
She got word to her father who, also seeing this as a diplomatic opportunity, agreed to the union.
On this day, April 5th, 1614, at the colony of Jamestown, John Rolfe and Pocahontas were married. In 1615 a son, Thomas Rolfe, was born. In 1616 the family traveled to England where Pocahontas was well received and, being both American Royalty and a topical curiosity, was presented at the court of King James.
In 1617, the family boarded a ship, eager to return to America but they hadn’t even left the Thames River when Pocahontas was overcome by a sudden, grave illness. Within hours the 21 year old Princess died. Her cause of death is still debated but there is no question that through 17th century marketing, 18th century art, 19th century lithographs and 20th century Disnification, her legend survives.
And, because of Thomas, the son of Lady Rebecca and John Rolf, their bloodline continued and was represented in the halls of American History. Two American First Ladies: Ronald Reagan’s wife Nancy and Woodrow Wilson’s wife Edith were both descendants of the Indian Princess Pocahontas

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